Executive Times

Volume 6, Issue 8

August, 2004


ã 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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Almost two hundred athletes spent the month of July riding in Le Tour de France. For the unprecedented sixth time, Lance Armstrong won the race. We’ve been thinking about what it took for cancer survivor Armstrong to achieve this remarkable success. Throughout this issue we explore the notion of victory and what it takes to achieve unprecedented success. As you read this, think about the obstacles to victory in your life, and what you need to do to overcome those obstacles.


Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. Three books are highly recommended with four stars, nine are recommended with three stars, two are mildly recommended with two stars, and one tedious book earned a single star. You can also visit our complete 2004 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2004books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all 2004 book reviews. You can also check this same bookshelf to see what other books we’re reading or considering. No new books were added to the “shelf of possibility” during July, as we try to catch up with our backlog. If there’s something missing from the bookshelf that you think we should be considering, let us know at books@hopkinsandcompany.com.

One lesson from Lance Armstrong involves his choice of Le Tour over other profitable cycling opportunities. Instead of spreading himself over lots of races around the world, Armstrong focuses intently on what it takes to succeed at the premiere event. Executives choose to enter or exit lines of business for a variety of reasons. In recent weeks, we’ve noted the divergent strategies of high profile companies in answering the question, “What business are we in?” When the Boeing board called Harry Stonecipher out of retirement to clean up after former CEO Phil Condit, who resigned under fire, it was hard to guess whether the new leader would be perceived as part of the problem or part of the solution. Seven months later, according to a long profile in Barrons (7/5) (http://online.wsj.com/barrons/article/0,,SB108880880450354510,00.html), it appears that he’s leading solutions. One key to both Armstrong’s and Stonecipher’s success is the intensity they bring to their work. At meetings, “I... insist that we tackle the toughest issues on the agenda first, rather than engage in polite warm-ups and delayed decision-making.” He reduced the number of direct reports to the CEO from 30 to 11. Here’s one aspect of his approach to focusing the organization on what it does best: “Stonecipher believes fervently in the cliché of sticking to core competencies and not competing against important customers like GE Capital and other major airplane-leasing firms. He scrapped plans to build Boeing Capital Corp. into a diversified finance arm. BCC is, in fact, selling some $2 billion in noncommercial aviation assets to GE. It is likewise ratcheting down the growth rate of its $10 billion in airplane loans and leases, returning to a role as mere lender of last resort for customers.” With the announcement of a new commercial plane for 2008 deliveries, the 7E7, morale in the company has soared because of increased competitiveness. Boeing’s decision about finance reminded us of the different approach both General Motors and Ford have taken to the role and importance of banking in their corporate results. Danny Hakim called this to our attention in The New York Times (7/22) (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/22/business/22motors.html) when he commented on the second quarter results for both companies, “The General Motors Corporation and the Ford Motor Company may be two of the world's largest automakers, but they continue to make their money as banks.” At the same time, their key competitor, Toyota, generates significant profits from its core auto and truck manufacturing operations. You wonder if the CEOs at GM and Ford think of themselves as finance companies that build vehicles.

How do you create and maintain intense focus on your work? When confronted with profitable, alternative activities to your core business, how do you decide whether to pursue or avoid? Do you tackle the toughest issues first, or spend a lot of time in warm up?


Another lesson from Lance Armstrong involves acquiring and maintaining discipline about time. Sally Jenkins, who co-authored two books with Armstrong, Every Second Counts, and It’s Not About the Bike, provided a great profile in The Washington Post (7/25) (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A12141-2004Jul24.html). “Time is Armstrong's obsession; he reflexively, desperately clutches at it. It's a quality that has served him well both in cancer and in racing. The Tour de France to him is a matter of meticulously tabulating time vs. pain vs. self-denial, a kind of physical algebra. ‘It's a mathematical equation,’ he says. He rehearses each crucial climb in the Tour until he understands exactly how many seconds he can gain, what his heart rate will be, how many calories he will burn, how much he needs to weigh, how many watts he can generate and how long his body can stand it at that rate. And yet clutching at time doesn't always serve him well in everyday matters. Last spring we met at his home in Girona to do some work. His marriage was failing, and he was frantic with worry over his children. ‘Cancer never kept me awake at night,’ he said. ‘This keeps me awake.’ He was clearly not training with the same ascetic devotion. (He ate every biscotti in the house.) One afternoon we wandered up the winding cobbled streets of Girona to an old Roman wall that circled the city, offering views of the Pyrenees. It was just a few blocks from his house -- but he had never seen it before. He was almost distraught at the discovery that something so beautiful was so close to him, and he hadn't had time to notice it. ‘I can't believe this has been here,’ he said then. ‘I'm an idiot.’ If there's one thing Armstrong could wish for, it's more time. Time with his kids, whom he's been away from for the better part of three months in pursuit of his sixth Tour win. ‘I'm not doing this again,’ he says. ‘I don't want to and I won't. Luke swam across the pool, the girls started ballet. I miss too much. I love two things, my kids and cycling. I'll find a way to make it work.’” Every executive chooses how to devote appropriate time to the right activities, while trying to maintain a life beyond work. Executives at competitor companies also make choices on how to use time, and the most successful leaders manage and leverage time to engage in those activities that drive the best results. We remembered a story from one of Armstrong’s books about his choice on a rest day versus that by closest competitor Jan Ullrich. Given the cold and rain, Ullrich made a reasonable decision to prepare for the next stage by reviewing videotape of the race route in his hotel room. Armstrong got on his bike and spent hours riding the course. Guess who won?

How disciplined is your approach to the choices you make in allocating your time? Within your organization and your life, how do you “make it work?” How do you examine your past choices about time to influence your future success? What do you know about how your competitors allocate their time? Who’s more likely to win?

There’s one key choice for riders during Le Tour: ride on with no hope of victory (but achieve some personal goal) or leave the race, a decision called “retirement.” One of Armstrong’s former teammates, and competitor, Tyler Hamilton, retired in the 2004 Tour after stage 13, having come in fourth place in 2003, a race he finished while injured. Organizations can face similar choice. Following past success, a time can come to “retire.” The injured company in the news recently that made a retirement decision was AT&T which announced (7/22) (http://www.att.com/news/item/0,1847,13163,00.html) that it “is shifting its focus away from traditional consumer services such as wireline residential telephone services, and concentrating its growth efforts going forward on business markets and emerging technologies, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), that can serve businesses as well as consumers.” The history of AT&T stumbles in recent years is probably a case study in business schools. This decision appears to face a competitive reality: other players were better performers in meeting consumer expectations, and the costs to compete were too high for AT&T to succeed. The baby Bells appear to have a short term advantage that can be exploited, but they continue to face long term fundamental problems. The smallest, Qwest, plans new ads to poach AT&T customers. We read in The New York Times (7/24) (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/24/business/24bell.html), “The change has also fueled speculation that AT&T could become a takeover target, industry analysts said. But they cautioned that potential suitors would wait to see how AT&T's revenues and earnings change before considering a merger with what was once the dominant long-distance company. The three largest regional Bell companies - Verizon Communications, SBC Communications and BellSouth - are the most likely suitors, analysts said, because each could easily afford AT&T at its current market capitalization of roughly $11.13 billion.” One stage of the race may be over; it might be time to perform in the mountains.


What is the impact of decisions of your competitors on your performance? Are you prepared to exploit short term opportunities? How do the short terms opportunities help you resolve your long term challenges? Are you looking ahead to the future stages that you need to win, or have you relaxed and started to coast in short term malaise? When you think about possible consolidations, what are the characteristics of partners that will increase your competitiveness? 

Any observer of this year’s Tour de France who saw the expressions on Lance Armstrong’s face came away with two conclusions: he works hard and he loves what he’s doing. Sally Jenkins commented in the profile referenced earlier, “What happened over the last three weeks was that a 32-year-old man raced like a boy, with a kind of rediscovered pleasure, as he won five stages and blew past his competition. ‘The only way I can describe it,’ he said, ‘is that it's like when you're 12 years old, and you and your five buddies all get new bikes and you say, “Let's race.” And all you want to do is clobber your buddies. It was like that.’” Executives who feel that way about their work may overcome all competitive obstacles and achieve victory under difficult circumstances.


How much do you enjoy the work you do? How much pleasure do you receive from your work? Does your hard work and sacrifice lead to satisfaction in the results you achieve? What would make you feel like a kid again? Why aren’t you doing whatever that is? 


Here are selected updates on stories covered in prior issues of Executive Times:

Ø      In the first issue of Executive Times, April 1999, we praised the Charles Schwab Corporation business model for doing business on the Internet at low prices, versus the hesitation of Merrill Lynch to upset their financial consultants with pricing changes. We haven’t checked back since the bubble burst, and note that in late July Schwab announced (http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=100728&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=593665&highlight=) the resignation of CEO Charles Pottruck and the reappointment of Charles Schwab to the top job and a plan to serve the needs of the “mass affluent.” Stay tuned.

Ø      The last time we had something to say about former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers was in the April 2004 issue of Executive Times when we told readers about an article that called attention to his hubris and the belief that he could keep the company afloat no matter what. That same article mentioned that his ticket away from jail time might be the fact that he did not profit personally from the financial shenanigans at that company. The latest update for those following his story is that MCI has sued him for payment of outstanding loans, the proceeds of which he used to buy company stock. For more, see The Washington Post (7/10) (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A39854-2004Jul9.html).


The venture capital business that we know today finds its roots in the actions of Laurance Rockefeller, who provided critical start up funding in the 1930s for what became Eastern Airlines. Three decades later, he became an early investor in both Intel and Apple. Along the way, he invested in hundreds of startups. Those contributions alone provide the basis for a lasting legacy. Rockefeller, though, went far beyond those venture activities, using his money to produce lasting value. He provided critical momentum to the conservation and environmental movements in America during the last half of the twentieth century. He donated the family’s land in Jackson Hole to the government, and 5,000 acres he donated on the Virgin Islands became a national park. In the 1960s he helped politicians define the kind of America our affluence could create, as shown by the health of the land, water and air. His biographer, Robin Weeks said, “There have been more than 200 books about the Rockefeller family. One may read all these books, some friendly, some angry, to discover that there is one Rockefeller who is barely present in most of them. This is Laurance, who moves in and out for a page or so and is then gone, neglected by an author who sometimes is in search of scandal or the stuff of headlines, or whose interests are in politics, high finance, or international affairs. As a result, most of these books have neglected the Rockefeller who, in the tradition of grandfather and father, arguably has moved and shaken to the most long-range purpose — the preservation of the nation's natural heritage, of great historic landscapes. That preservation and the resulting creation of a conservation ethic that is endurable, bipartisan, and rooted in a consistent sense of values is a quieter but far more significant achievement than much that is done in politics, education, or business. Laurance Rockefeller chose this quieter path early in life.” Thanks to him, this natural heritage remains for us all. Laurance Rockefeller died in early July at age 94.

Latest Books Read and Reviewed:

 (Note: readers of the web version of Executive Times can click on the book covers to order copies directly from amazon.com.  When you order through these links, Hopkins & Company receives a small payment from amazon.com.  Click on the title to read the review or visit our 2004 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2004books.html).


Title (Link to Review)



Review Summary


On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (and always have) in the Future Tense

Brooks, David

Paradocs. We advised readers to take a pass on Bobos in Paradise four years ago. The new Paradise is neither serious enough thoughtful sociology nor funny enough social commentary to warrant anything above a mild recommendation.

Crofton’s Fire

Coplin, Keith

Hero. Fans of historical fiction will appreciate this debut novel from 60 year old author, and the portrait of an American soldier in the 1870s. A satisfying story.

Sharpe’s Escape: Spain and Portugal, 1810

Cornwell, Bernard

Indomitable. 20th novel featuring Captain Richard Sharpe rewards readers with the reprise of familiar characters and the introduction of new heroes and villains, while Sharpe behaves as expected: impulsive, imprudent and successful. Enjoy.

Sweet Land Stories

Doctorow, E.L.

Savory. Five well-crafted stories with universal themes presenting readers with the opportunity to think a little differently about life, love, power and alienation.

The Trouble Boy

Dolby, Tom

Lite Lights. Another debut novel about coming of age in New York City, this time the twenty-something gay version. Some punchy writing.

Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism

Edwards, Bob

Pioneer. Fine biography of a driven, hard-working visionary whose approach and methods for broadcast journalism continue to be emulated by the best practitioners. Includes transcripts of great broadcasts.

The Catholic Revolution

Greeley, Andrew M.

Bursting. Informed interpretation of decades of data provides insight into the root causes of the current crisis in the Catholic Church. Data and observation lead author to theory, and book conveys all three.

An Unfinished Season

Just, Ward S.

What If? Finely crafted novel with pages of perfect narrative lead readers to see the impact of one summer’s formative experiences on a lifetime, and wonder what if things had turned out differently.

Why I Love Baseball

King, Larry

Balk. Brief and tedious, rambling narrative full of song lyrics, quotes from players and managers, names dropped and boring recollections of games and teams gone by. 

Death By Meeting: A Leadership Fable About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business

Lencioni, Patrick

Conflict. Expected to hate this book, but found ideas worth trying, despite lack of empirical evidence. If you can put up with the fable, there are lessons to apply to your own meetings.

Remembering Jack: Intimate and Unseen Photographs of the Kennedys

Lowe, Jacques

Vigor. Take a break from this year’s presidential campaign, and peek at images from 40 years ago that you’ve never seen before.


Murkoff, Bruce

Flows. Well-written, expansive debut novel of the intertwined lives of three characters and the building of Boulder Dam. Dramatic, powerful, seems as big as the dam itself.

The Unnatural

Nayes, Alan

Creepy. Better medical thriller than latest Robin Cook novels. An enjoyable, creepy story, perfect for summer distraction.

Centennial Crisis: The Disputed Election of 1876

Rehnquist, William H.

Robes. Supreme Court Chief Justice provides backgrounds of justices, Tilden, Hayes and a context for justices accepting extrajudicial roles, with striking parallels to the 2000 election.

A Hole in Texas

Wouk, Herman

Particles. Entertaining romp into the world of science and politics through the love and passion of captivating characters. Great summer reading from veteran talented writer.




ã 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC.  Executive Times is published monthly by Hopkins and Company, LLC at the company’s office at 723 North Kenilworth Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois 60302. Subscription rate for first class mail delivery of the print version is $60.00 per year (12 issues). Web version subscriptions are $30.00 per year. Single issues: $10.00 print; $5.00 web. To subscribe, sign up at www.hopkinsandcompany.com/subscribe.html, send an e-mail to executivetimes@hopkinsandcompany.com, call (708) 466-4650, or fax to (708) 386-8687. For permission to photocopy or e-mail Executive Times, call (708) 466-4650 or e-mail to reprints@hopkinsandcompany.com. We will send sample copies if requested. The company’s website at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/archives.html contains the archives of back issues beginning in the month after the issue date. 

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